The turnaround of Rasheed

Updated: March 26, 2004, 10:57 AM ET
By Bill Walton | Special to ESPN.com

Please file this at the top of the list of "Who would have ever thought?" Or "How can this be?" Rasheed Wallace has become the darling of the NBA. He has single-handedly solved all of the Detroit Piston's problems.

Like so many of us who travel commercially, as Rasheed moved from Portland to Atlanta to Detroit, he apparently lost his baggage. And now he finds himself as the main reason why Detroit has to be considered a strong title contender.

The Pistons have long been known as a team of good players, sadly lacking that special talent who could separate them from a crowded field of mediocrity. Who would have thought that Rasheed would be that guy -- a guy who left his first two franchises (Washington and Portland) in flaming ruin?

Rasheed has been nothing short of exemplary both on and off the court since arriving in Detroit almost a month ago. There have been absolutely no negatives other than probably taking a few too many 3-point shots. But every coach makes some exceptions and allowances for every player. This would certainly not be the worst transgression that Larry Brown has ever turned his back on.

Maybe the best thing for Rasheed is that he now seems to be happy with what he is doing, something that never seems to be the case for Bob Knight and Dennis Rodman. Certainly, the Pistons and their fans have a lot to be happy about.

On the offense end, Rasheed has opened everything up. The other teams have to respect his enormous talent and skill. He has become the Pistons' long-missing go-to guy. His post-up game often demands a double team and his use of the glass is beautiful. His 3-point shot draws his defender away from the hoop and his ability to convert on the lob is lethal. But what has truly inspired everyone has been his unselfish play and willingness to move the ball. This has become contagious in Detroit and a once stagnant squad is now sometimes guilty of over-passing.

I am old enough to remember when Rasheed was often criticized for not being assertive enough. Now his unselfishness is being praised as a key to the team's recent record-setting run. Rasheed is a player who, despite liking his touches, does not really need to shoot a lot to be satisfied. As a result, the Pistons' offense is now very efficient in the half court.

On defense, Rasheed has changed the Pistons even more. Teaming with, and ultimately freeing up, Ben Wallace on the back line, the Pistons now present a four-armed Dikembe Mutombo at the basket. Rasheed is extremely long and athletic, and he is also more than willing to mix things up physically. His mobility and agility allow him to step out to help his less-talented teammates on the perimeter. But again, it has been his unselfish willingness to be a team-first defender that has transformed what had been a solid group into one that literally can't be beat.

With two shot-blockers, two big individual stoppers, two demonic defensive rebounders and two long-armed rotators, what is an opponent to do other than jack up ill-advised shots that play right into the Pistons' defensive strategy?

And this is only the beginning of Rasheed's impact. He has brought a level of hope, optimism and confidence to a team that was destined to fall short one more time. Rasheed has also provided a psychological edge that the Pistons were previously lacking. Assist totals and field-goal percentages are up; turnovers are down significantly. They now have a complete team that is regularly in floor balance and rarely gives up much in transition, thus forcing teams to play against their set defense.

Most importantly, Rasheed has made his teammates immeasurably better. Tayshaun Prince is getting more and better looks, Chauncey Billups is playing the best ball of his career, Lindsey Hunter is making consistent contributions in all aspects of the game and Ben Wallace is better than ever -- although his numbers will go down (as everybody's eventually do when a team moves toward greatness).

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of something very special. Rasheed has made the most of his new opportunity. He has a Hall of Fame coach and general manager that demand professionalism and accountability and teammates that he respects. Hopefully, these strong, positive leadership influences will keep him focused. At worst, the Pistons now find themselves in a very powerful sign-and-trade position at the end of this season and the conclusion of Rasheed's long-term contract.

The next and only possible step left to this heart-warming story will be Rasheed dedicating his life away from basketball to world peace and eternal salvation. From what I've seen over the last month, I fully envision Rasheed now following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa -- becoming the personification of their two favorite mantras: "Things work out best for those that make the best out of the way things work out" and "A life not lived for others is not a life."

I love and live for fairy-tale endings.

Bill Walton, who is a regular contributor to ESPN.com, is an NBA analyst for ESPN. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

ESPN.com NBA Insider and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton will again serve as a game analyst for ESPN's NBA telecasts. He joined ESPN and ABC Sports' in their inaugural season of NBA coverage in 2002.

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